In case you haven’t seen it yet, David Radavich’s poem “Airstrike” is this week’s posting on Writing the New South. This poem is a fine example of what can be created when a writer turns his or her imagination on the wider world (I’m assuming that Radavich has never actually been in an airstrike).
We selected this poem, out of many outstanding submissions, on Tuesday; by coincidence, on Tuesday evening, I had a ticket to hear one of my favorite living authors, Sir Salman Rushdie, speak in Greensboro as part of Guilford College’s Bryan Series.
His stated topic was “Politics and Literature in the Modern World,” but the subject of his talk was a bit broader than that. For more than an hour, Rushdie wondered aloud what responsibility a writer has to the world at large. The centerpoint of his talk was recounting a conference at which Saul Bellow said to him, as a rebuke, “Writers do not have responsibilities; writers have inspirations.”
Rushdie admitted that, as he grows older, he comes to agree with Bellow more and more. Since I’m not quite ready to argue with the literary opinions of a Nobel laureate and a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire, I thought about Writing the New South, and wondered if a little clarification is in order.
If writers have a responsibility to the wider world (as opposed to their own inner lives), it is not in the same nature as a citizen’s responsibility to vote, or a parent’s responsibility to a child. It is more in the nature of one individual’s responsibility to have some consideration and empathy for the lives of others.
It is also a responsibility to their own craft, which in most cases is greatly enriched by engaging their imaginations with the circumstances of others.
If you are a curious, informed, aware person who happens to be a creative writer, the world around you will inevitably find its way into your work, not as a responsibility, but as a source of inspiration.
I think, then, that most of our members would do this without the incentive of Writing the New South. I hope, though, that Writing the New South will provide a forum for work that might not otherwise find one.
Don’t forget that Writing the New South is an ongoing project, with no deadline for submissions. Go here if you’d like to submit one of your works for this project.